Kratos is angry. It’s his defining feature, like Dumbo’s ears or Kim Kardashian’s gluteous maximus. At no point in the God of War franchise is Kratos ever not angry for more than a few minutes, even when he’s rutting with busty wenches he has an air of quiet menace, like he’s just about to rip someone’s head clean off. If God of War was a film franchise, you wouldn’t root for that type of character – but because he’s a video game protagonist and violent rages against towering beasts in video games are somewhat cathartic, you find yourself getting behind the big bald psychopath all the way.
If you’ve ever played God of War before, you’ll know what to expect: Kratos comes out swinging right from the off. Beginning the first game in service to Ares, the dome-headed, ash-smeared loon is happy to destroy anyone who stands in his way – until he is charged to kill Ares and finally avenge his family. What follows is a murderous rampage through Greek mythology in the pursuit of Pandora’s Box, culminating in what was – at the time of its original release – an incredibly brutal showdown with Ares.
The action translates well to the Vita. Kratos’ movements are fluid and pacey, but the effects of compressing all that data down onto a tiny card are such that the visuals look slightly muddy and indistinct. The minute-to-minute gameplay looks far better than the cutscenes, however, and the frantic combo-based combat is just as satisfying now as it was on the PlayStation 2 back in the day.
God of War II tells the story of Kratos’ fall from grace. After being named Ares’ successor, he just can’t stop busting heads and snapping necks, and is subsequently banished from Mount Olympus by Athena. Before long he’s on another quest for vengeance, this time against Zeus and the entire Greek pantheon.
The improvements over the first game are stark from the off. Visually, God of War II is brighter and crisper, the animation slicker and the combat more involved and a little less chaotic. It looks markedly better on the Vita’s screen than the original, but feels almost exactly the same. The God of War series is known for its grand openings, and both I & II deliver spectacle in spades from the get-go, but it would have been nice to see fully remastered versions of both games included in the bundle. The controls are still set to the archaic PS2 layouts where triangle is “back”, which just feels alien nowadays.
For some reason, the guys responsible for the port, Sanzaru (they of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time fame) have ignored the Vita’s touchscreen and instead allocated several contextual actions to the rear touchpad. For example, instead of pressing circle to open a chest, you have to hold the touchpad and then tap circle. It’s utterly bizarre and feels incredibly arbitrary, an almost half-assed attempt to shoe-horn at least some of the Vita’s modern-day functionality into the control scheme when it’s completely unnecessary.
VERDICT: Minor gripes aside, though, the God of War Collection remains incredibly playable, proving once again that Kratos is one of those rare, ageless creations whose mechanics never seem to age even if his visuals do. Still of a higher quality than many PlayStation 3 games, the pairing of God of War I & II is a decent – if slightly stretched – fit for the Vita, and a great shout for anyone who missed out first time around or simply wants to revisit the blood-soaked marble pillars of Kratos’ ancient Greece. A welcome release certainly, but not entirely essential.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.